Sorry for the delay, here are answers to what's been asked so far:
Hi! Thank you so much for doing this!
I'm extremely interested in the program, but I have no ties to DC whatsoever. Will this hurt me in the interview process?
Do most attorneys who finish the program accept a full-time position in DC, or where do they generally end up?
No ties to DC needed. You just need to have some credible interest in government work. We assume that if you want to work for the federal government you are willing to relocate to DC. For long-term, although the program is structured as a 2-year position, most Honors
Attorneys stay with the agency at least in the medium term (5-10 years). Every year 1-2 Honors
Attorneys will voluntarily take positions outside the agency, but the rest will end up with permanent positions somewhere in the Department. That is not a legal guarantee, but it sorts itself out. Beginning at the end of the first year Honors
Attorneys are eligible to take a permanent position within the Department, and any legal position that comes open during that second year of the program must be offered to interested Honors
Attorneys first before anyone else may be hired (except in extraordinary circumstances).
1) what do attorneys at DOT do?
2) what are you looking for in candidates?
3) what does the DOT pay their honor attorneys?
4) what does the hiring process look like? Is there a central timeline? How many rounds of interviews? At what schools will you be doing on-campus recruiting?
1) [Answer adapted from the 2015 thread] In terms of the typical work of an Honors
Attorney, the Honors
Attorneys basically do whatever the individual office is doing. Whether the Honors
Attorney is acting as a lead vs. support attorney on a given issue depends on its complexity and timeline (since Honors
Attorneys are only in an office for 4 months). Since the work an office may be doing at any given time can vary tremendously, I think the best way to answer your question is to describe the basic work of the DOT
that the attorneys support in general.
About half of the DOT
is focused on funding transportation infrastructure. The closest private sector analogy might be to the work a bank would do. Attorneys are involved in the selection of funding recipients, execution of the funding documents, and oversight of the use of the funds. All federal funds are subject to a large list of legal restrictions, including Civil Rights laws, labor laws, procurement competition laws, Buy America laws, etc. Attorneys not only provide support in each individual funding action, but also help develop general practices, procedures, and forms that can be used to streamline the process as a whole. Attorneys also investigate and enforce all the various terms of the funding agreements when needed.
The other half of the DOT
is focused on regulating the safety of our national transportation systems. Different parts of DOT
regulate all air traffic (commercial and private), commercial trucking companies, automobile manufacturers, all railroad companies (passenger and cargo), all mass transit entities, all interstate transportation of hazardous materials regardless of mode, and all interstate pipelines. In this arena attorneys work in regulatory and pseudo-prosecutorial roles. They will assist in the rulemaking process - drafting rules, responding to comments, and analyzing legal issues that come up. They will also do enforcement work - receive investigation reports from field inspectors, evaluate cases, file regulatory notices of violation, and do all the negotiation or administrative trial work necessary to resolve the issue.
All parts of the DOT
also have attorneys doing the equivalent of in-house counsel work for government agencies. This involves internal compliance of laws governing the behavior of federal employees, including procurement regulations and the investigation and resolution of employment law issues. This work also covers Freedom of Information Act requests, interpreting the agency's legislative authority, analyzing fiscal/appropriations law to ensure that money is being spent properly, drafting legislation and interfacing with Congress, and providing litigation assistance to DOJ.
This in no way describes everything a DOT
attorney might do, but hopefully gives you a slightly better idea of the various areas of work you may be exposed to.
2) With varying degrees of importance: academic performance in law school and undergrad (GPA and class standing), journal/moot court/mock trial experience, other academic awards, oral and written communication skills, demonstrated ownership over your work, overall professionalism and interpersonal skills, demonstrated interest in public service.
Attorneys are hired at GS-11(currently $66k in DC) and will generally (unless you really screw up) be promoted to GS-12 ($80k) after one year. After that your promotions are based on the policies of the individual agencies you are hired into, but as a general rule DOT
attorneys can expect annual promotion up to GS-14 ($95k at 13 then $112k at 14). Some agencies then allow promotion to GS-15 at the staff level, while others require a promotion into a supervisory role for GS-15 promotion. All salaries usually also get a COLA annually, depending on what the Congress/President do. And once you reach GS-14 you receive step increases at varying increments (1 step a year for 4 years, then spacing out after that). Check out OPM's website for more detail.
4) Each region coordinator is responsible for choosing where to interview, though our travel budget is limited this year so in-person coverage may be spotty. That said, don't despair if there is not OCI at your school. We do review all the resumes received through resume drop postings and will follow up with phone interviews. First round interviews are being conducted through Sept. 15. Second round interviews will be held in late October in DC (~80 interviews anticipated). Then offers will be extended around Thanksgiving.
I am curious to know if DOT Honors gives any kind of preference to those coming from federal clerkships. I missed the program as a 2017 graduate but will be applying for 2018 as a clerk and interned with a few fed agencies in law school.
No specific preference for clerks, but the qualifications that got you a clerkship will definitely make you attractive for the program. We have a specific recruitment coordinator for clerks, info here: https://www.transportation.gov/mission/administrations/general-counsel/honors-attorney-program-how-to-apply